Are you willing to watch your children fail?

“What can we do to prevent our son from failing in English?” asked the parents of a high school freshman.

Getting an “F” in any class meant that their son would be unable to play high school sports for a semester. “Failure is not an option,” remarked the dad, repeating an inspirational quote from the “Apollo 13” movie.

I met with their son, Jack, for an hour and then reviewed his academic record. My meeting with Jack and his parents was not what they expected.

“Failure is the best option for your son,” I declared. There was an uneasy silence in the room. My recommendation went against every instinct of these dedicated parents and was incomprehensible to their overprotected son.

Isn’t our job as parents to protect our kids from harm? We do everything we can to ensure our children’s physical health, having them wear seat belts, exercise on padded surfaces, and go to school with bottles of hand sanitizer.

Shouldn’t we be just as concerned about our kids’ psychological health as we are about their physical safety?

Why is failure more important than football for Jack?

Personal responsibility. Jack’s overprotective parents always have been there for him, rescuing him from his own irresponsibility. In the real world, there is a relationship between what you do and what happens to you.

Although 14 years old, Jack has yet to learn that connection. His parents have been a buffer from life’s disappointments and rejections.

Coping skills. Life is a journey filled with occasions of great happiness interspersed with frustrations, rejections and conflict. How we navigate those tough times defines who we really are.

Positive coping behaviors are critically important for our kids. Such skills include keeping a positive attitude, reaching out to friends for support, looking for creative solutions to problems, and getting enough sleep and exercise.

Kids can’t learn those skills if they never have to deal with any significant rejection or disappointment. Kids who are hooked on success have a hard time with failure. These young adults may turn to drugs, alcohol, and even become depressed when dealing with frustration.

Persistence. One of the world’s greatest inventors, Thomas Edison, was also one of the greatest failures of his generation. He tested various materials for the filament of the electric light bulb, and was wrong more than 6,000 times.

One of Edison’s greatest attributes was his relentless persistence. “I have not failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work,” remarked Edison.

Failing English may be the best thing for Jack’s psychological health.

He’ll learn that his parents will not always be there to rescue him from his own irresponsible behavior. He may learn something about more efficient study habits. Perhaps he’ll even get excited about some of the assigned literature that he never bothered to read.

Unlike “Apollo 13,” failure may indeed be the best option for Jack.

Gregory Ramey, Ph.D., is a child psychologist and vice president for outpatient services at The Children’s Medical Center of Dayton. For more of his columns, visit

Parenting seminar by Dr. Ramey

Dr. Ramey will give a presentation at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at Dayton Children’s Outpatient Care Center – Springboro. Ramey will discuss “Kids and their Technological Worlds” and will provide recent research on Internet usage, cell phones and television, and some concrete implications for today’s parents. Seating is limited and an RSVP is required. E-mail Betsy Woods at or call (937) 641-3619.

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